Struggling in singles, Sock doubles … up

NEW YORK – Assuming he’s healthy, which it appears he is, American Jack Sock is having a crisis of confidence in singles.

He’s still in the top 20 – for now. And in fact, he’ll move up one spot to No. 17 on Monday after meekly going out in the second round of the US Open singles.

But he is salvaging his season in a major way, as the best possible substitute Mike Bryan could have asked for after his twin Bob underwent hip surgery.

Sock and Bryan are the US Open men’s doubles champions, after defeating No. 7 seeds Lukasz Kubot of Poland and Marcelo Melo of Brazil 6-3, 6-1 in the final Friday.

“I think this was the best match we have played together, and we picked a good time to do it. You know, Jack hit some monstrous forehands. I think our average speed on shots was 84 (mph), and I’m hitting the ball in the 60s. Who’s the guy that’s bringing that up? It’s Jack. He had one at 111,” Bryan said.

They add that trophy to the one they won just two months ago, at Wimbledon. It’s the first time in 15 years that the same pair has won both.

“I tend to smile a lot more in doubles than singles and tend to put a lot less pressure on myself, for sure. And I think, as my coach is making fun of me back here, if I could translate that maybe over to singles and maybe have somewhat of that same mentality of playing loose and just enjoying, you know, every moment of it, then hopefully I can accomplish some of these things in singles,” Sock said.

“But I know the level I can play. I showed a lot of it last year. I think it’s just going to keep taking the team effort with the guys I have around me, and they are keeping me positive, keeping me motivated; I’m doing a lot of the right things. As long as I keep doing that, as I keep saying, it’s very close. And I was happy to at least get a win here and not keep the losing streak going, so I’ll take that, as well, confidence going forward and get ready for the fall.”

Oldest ever, but forever young

At 40, Mike Bryan is the oldest man to win a Grand Slam doubles title. That’s a record he could conceivably keep breaking as he expects Bob back for 2019. He also is the oldest-ever No. 1-ranked doubles player. Ditto.

For Sock, it’s a new career high in doubles at No. 2. His previous high was No. 6, back in May 2015 when he was still playing regularly with Canadian Vasek Pospisil (the two won Wimbledon together in 2014).

He began the season at No. 39, playing doubles somewhat regularly but always having it take a back seat to his singles career.

After just five tournaments together, they will rocket to No. 4 in the team rankings and will make the year-end Tour Finals in London. They are the defacto No. 3 team, as the actual No. 3s are the Bryan twins.

It is the sixth US Open doubles title for Mike, with the first five (obviously) coming with brother Bob. And it is his 120th career title.

It also puts him at the top of the list, in terms of Grand Slam doubles titles in the open era. He began 2018 tied with his brother at 16, one behind John Newcombe. Now, he stands alone.

“I think it comes down to playing the big matches well. Jack is a big match player. He always plays his best. He’s done it through his junior career. I don’t think you have lost a Grand Slam final. So he steps up when it really matters. When we lost in Cincinnati, he was, like, ‘We’re Grand Slam players’. I’m, like, ‘All right. Let’s see what we got.’

“He showed it today. He just played amazing. You know, it wasn’t easy early. At Wimbledon we struggled, had some long matches, down match points. I was still adjusting to the deuce court and to his style of play. He plays a different brand that I have never seen on my side before. So now it feels comfortable,” he added. “It’s just a blast. I mean, from the locker room, from practices, to winning these trophies, it’s just been a great ride.”

Best in the world? Nestor thinks so

The legendary Daniel Nestor said recently that Jack Sock was the best doubles player in the world. Why, Nestor was asked? Because he can win with anyone.

Mike Bryan, of course, is not anyone. But Sock played the ad side while Mike, who almost always plays the ad side with lefty Bob playing the deuce side (except, back in the day, when they wanted to change things up during a period they had a ton of trouble beating Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic), moved over.

Sock now has 13 titles. Four came with Pospisil, two with John Isner and now two with Bryan. He also has earned trophies with Nick Kyrgios, Nicholas Monroe, James Blake, Marcel Granollers and … Jackson Withrow.

“I was talking to my team and coach, especially, and I was not planning on playing doubles at Wimbledon. But after, you know, the unfortunate injury with Bob, obviously I talked to him a little bit and I said, If there’s a chance Mike contacts me, what would you say about that? I think that’s a special circumstance and occasion,” Sock said. “My coach said, ‘He’s the one guy I’d let you play with if he calls you or texts you.’ Soon after, I got the call or the text, you know, and a very quick yes from me.”

Hip surgery for Bob Bryan ends his season

After nearly three months away with a hip injury, Bob Bryan tried to play a competitive match with the World Team Tennis Washington Kastles last week.

After two games, they substituted for him.

So it wasn’t a total shock that Bob, the lefty half of the Hall-of-Fame bound Bryan brothers, was headed for the operating table.

“He’s going to have surgery unfortunately. He’s having it this week up in New York [with a doctor] who’s one of the best in the world for the hip. It looks like it might be a six-month recovery. He’s hoping to come back a little after the Aussie Open next year,” Mike Bryan told Jane Voigt of Down the Tee. “It looks like it will get back to one-hundred percent; so that’s good news.”

A  tennis.life source said the surgery was performed Thursday morning. (Indeed, the Washington Post confirms this).

surgery

The Bryans, who are now 40, retired in that final in Madrid, because of Bob’s hip. But the effort in that Masters 1000 tournament moved them up to a tie for No. 3 in the ATP Tour doubles rankings.

After losing the No. 1 ranking in Oct. 2017 – they had a stranglehold on the top spot for more than five years – the Bryans had dropped as low as No. 15 in February.

BryanTheir last major title was the 2014 US Open, and they had reached just two Grand Slam finals over the ensuing three years. In 2017, the brothers won just two relatively minor titles: Atlanta and Eastbourne.

You know, at their age and given what they’d accomplished, that thoughts began to creep in about whether it was the beginning of the end. But they rested and retooled and already in 2018, they had won Masters 1000 titles at Miami and Monte Carlo, and reached the final at two more, Indian Wells and Madrid.

The tennis was coming together, and there were goals to shoot for.

And then, the bad news.

Mike Bryan is hip, too

Mike Bryan knows all about this. It’s buried deep in their illustrious history now, but he had his own major hip issues all the way back in 2004.

surgery
Bob Bryan is no slouch in mixed, either. He teamed up with Lindsay Davenport in Wimbledon mixed, after she returned to action following the birth of her first child. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

After the Bryans lost in the quarterfinals at the Athens Olympics, he contemplated surgery himself, and according to this Forbes piece, was diagnosed with FAI and labral tears in both hips. He never missed any time, and had cortisone shots for three years and worked with a noted New York-based physiotherapist to manage it. 

But Mike Bryan was just 26 then. Whole different ballgame.

The Bryans aren’t like the rest of the teams out there. Mike is playing with France’s Edouard Roger-Vasselin this week, whose regular partner is injured. Jean-Julien Rojer, another top-10 player, is also going from week to week as his longtime partner, Horia Tecau, is also off the tour.

But the Bryans, twins, are like two halves of a whole.

So imagine the emotions when Mike, teamed up with Jack Sock, won Wimbledon this year and, at 40, returned to the No. 1 ranking.

surgery

That had been a “team” goal. And he did it without his other half.

“I would’ve loved for him to have hoisted the trophy with me. We were having a great year up to that point. I definitely thought we could’ve won a slam this year. [But], he was very supportive from home; and, I dedicated the victory to him. He was sharing in the whole process. I’m just looking forward to having him back,” Bryan told Down the Tee.

Sock time on the hard courts

Bryan played with Sam Querrey at the French Open, Jack Sock at Queen’s Club and Wimbledon, Jamie Cerretani at Eastbourne, Frances Tiafoe in Atlanta and Roger-Vasselin this week in D.C.

But he’ll reunite with Sock for the rest of the hard-court season and though the fall. 

surgery

There’s a new goal: making the ATP Tour Finals in November in London.

They are already 9th in the race (eighth, technically, since Bryan and Bryan stand at No. 2) after only two tournaments together

surgeryAnd given both their rankings are in the top 20, and they have a major title, they likely would earn the eighth spot automatically even if they do little else, per the rules.

The side bonus of this partnership is that it could prove to be a boost to Sock’s confidence during a season when his singles is a major struggle.

On his way to the top in singles last year, Sock didn’t play that much doubles.

But he won Wimbledon in 2014 with Canadian Vasek Pospisil. And recently, asked who the best doubles player in the world is, no less an authority than Daniel Nestor named Sock. Why? “Because he can win with anybody,” Nestor said.

As their doubles gen bows out, Bryans take Miami

MIAMI, Fla. – Mike and Bob Bryan, the No. 1 doubles team on the ATP Tour for 438 weeks, the year-end No. 1s for 10 consecutive years, have had a major dry spell by their standards.

But somehow, you knew they weren’t done yet.

As the twins turn 40 at the end of this month, they captured their biggest title in nearly two years, winning the Miami Open for the fifth time.

And, combined with their run to the final at Indian Wells, they had their best “Sunshine Double” run since 2013 and 2014, when they won both, back-to-back.

Tied for 15th in the rankings when they hit the U.S. circuit, they will be tied for seventh in the rankings on Monday. And they will be a solid No. 2 in the race for the ATP Tour Finals.

“I’m really proud of the way we’re playing, how we’ve turned it around from a fairly rough last year. We’re building every week. I feel like we’re gaining momentum, and I’m very optimistic going into the clay-court season. And I think we’re playing with a lot of joy now, and it’s showing in our results,” Bob Bryan said after the 4-6, 7-6 (5), [10-4] win over young guns Karen Khachanov and Andrey Rublev of Russia.

Rublev and Khachanov are 41 – combined.

Comeback against the Russian kids

It wasn’t the brothers’ only comeback of the tournament.

They looked down and out against Daniell and Inglot in the first round. They looked done against Klaasen and Venus in the quarterfinals before winning the match 10-8 in the match tiebreak. 

The 2017 season was a tough one for the Bryans, who won the Masters 1000 in Rome in May of 2016, but managed just two small titles in the intervening two years, in Eastbourne on grass and in Atlanta last summer.

Mike Bryan’s marriage to Lucille Williams ended during that period, after less than five years. So there was a lot going on.

From 2013 through 2015, the brothers won 14 Masters 1000 titles, 

They were experimenting with various rackets after being with Prince forever, as Mike Bryan dealt with an ongoing arm issue. Last summer in Washington, D.C., Mike was playing with a Wilson, while Bob continued on with Prince.

Bryans

At the moment, they’re back on the same page, playing with Babolat.

“It’s a big honour and a pleasure to play with the best doubles players in history, and to have a great fight, and I think people enjoyed the match,” Rublev said during the trophy ceremony. “They are the best. That’s it.”

The last of a generation

Here’s a look at the doubles rankings, six years ago this week.

Longevity is a given in men’s doubles, as the top players in recent years have always skewed older than the top singles players even if the singles roster also has gotten more … seasoned.

But of the 10 players atop the rankings, three of the four youngest (Bhupathi, Llodra and Fyrstenberg) already have retired.

The rest play on. But all have seen their rankings tumble. Some are picking up partners week to week, looking to see where they can get into the bigger events.

That’s one huge advantage of playing with your twin. The chances that you’re going to break up are pretty slim.

Here’s an update on the rest – four of whom are also former No. 1s. And put into context, it tells you that even if the Bryans aren’t putting up the numbers they once were, their results are still impressive.

Max Mirnyi (BLR)

Age: 40
Career-high ranking: 1
Career titles: 51
Current ranking: 40
2018 won-loss record: 7-5
2018 partners: Philipp Oswald, Ryan Harrison
Best 2018 result: New York Open title
Miami result: 1st rd

Daniel Nestor (CAN)

Age: 45
Career-high ranking: 1
Career titles: 91
Current ranking: 74
2018 won-loss record: 3-9
2018 partners: Marcelo Demoliner, Steve Johnson, Denis Istomin, Florin Mergea, Neal Skupski, Robert Lindstedt, Jonathan Erlich, Donald Young, Philipp Oswald.
Best result: Auckland QF
Miami result: 1st rd

Nenad Zimonjic (SRB)

Age: 41
Career-high ranking: 1
Career titles: 54
Current ranking: 61
2018 won-loss record: 0-6
2018 partners: Kyle Edmund, Marcel Granollers, Andrey Rublev, Viktor Troicki, Florin Mergea, 
Best result: Seven first-round losses
Miami result: 1st rd

Leander Paes (IND)

Age: 44
Career-high ranking: 1
Career titles: 54
Current ranking: 45
2018 won-loss record: 5-6
2018 partners: Jamie Cerretani, Purav Raja, Joe Salisbury, 
Best result: Dubai final
Miami result: DNP

Rohan Bopanna (IND)

Age: 38
Career-high ranking: 3
Career titles: 17
Current ranking: 20
2018 won-loss record: 7-7
2018 partners: Édouard Roger-Vasselin
Best result: Sydney, Marseille SFs
Miami result: 2nd rd

Marcin Matkowski (POL)

Age: 37
Career-high ranking: 7
Career titles: 17
Current ranking:  47
2018 won-loss record: 5-6
2018 partners: Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi 
Best result: Australian Open quarterfinal
Miami result: 1st rd

The Bryan brothers’ last major was the 2014 US Open.

Can they make a run at one this year?  Why not. The expanded Miami draw meant five match wins to take the title. A Grand Slam is just one more round.

New coach for Milos Raonic

WASHINGTON – Milos Raonic Inc. is hiring again.

All jokes aside, the 26-year-old Canadian has added another coach to his advisory board for the hard-court season.

Dusan Vemic, the 41-year-old Croatian-born Serb who has been part of Novak Djokovic’s coaching team on several occasions, has joined Team Raonic for the summer.

Mark Knowles, the retired doubles specialist who began working with Raonic during the grass-court season, also will be back. And main coach Richard Piatti will be in Cincinnati and at the US Open, Raonic told Tennis.Life.

Vemic, though, is flying solo this week at the Citi Open.

Here’s what they looked like on the practice court Monday, with Kei Nishikori on the other side of the net.

Vemic was a top-150 singles player with a big serve. But his best results came in doubles. He reached his career high of No. 31 in 2009.

For a brief time after he retired, Vemic and Petar Popovic worked together with Andrea Petkovic of Germany. It was during that period that the German reached the top 10.

He worked with Djokovic and now-former coach Marian Vajda during many of the Grand Slam events from 2011 to 2013. He last was on hand for the Miami Open last year. Vemic also is a coach with the Serbian Davis Cup team and was the coach of the Serbian Olympic men’s team in Rio last year.

Vemic coached the legendary Bryan brothers for the last part of 2016. As of Wimbledon, he still was coaching them. The Serb’s various biographies and online resumés still state that he is the coach of the Bryan brothers.

The Bryans won the Atlanta ATP event last week, and are in Washington this week for the Citi Open. But Vemic is with Raonic.  

We will investigate.

Vemic Rogers Cup memories

Vemic teamed up with Djokovic in doubles at the Rogers Cup. They lost to Rafael Nadal and his 41-year-old, retired coach Francisco Roig.

The standout tennis.life memory of Vemic came at the Rogers Cup back in 2009. 

Rafael Nadal wanted to play doubles. But for whatever reason, he couldn’t hook up with a partner. So he ended up playing with his associate coach Francisco Roig.

Roig was 41 at the time, and retired a decade.

Their opponents? Djokovic and Vemic, who was near his career-high ranking in doubles at the time. Nadal and Roig won, 7-5, 6-4. It had to be a little bit embarrassing!